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BC Conservatives promise gang crime unit if elected

The BC Conservative Party promises to dedicate $4 million to prosecuting gang crimes if it gains power in the coming provincial election.

The money would go towards hiring 10 new prosecutors to helm a "Gang Crime Prosecutors Unit" for northern and interior British Columbia. The Conservative platform also promises to bolster addiction services and expedite the court system in an effort to curtail gangs.

According to party spokesperson Jaclyn Laic, five of the 10 proposed prosecutors would be sent to Kelowna, and the rest would be based in Prince George. The city has been flagged for serious crime by Statistics Canada and Maclean's magazine, though rates have been dropping.

Laic expects the prosecutors to move throughout the region to assist police "as demand dictates." The plan aims at balancing the "support" available for law enforcement in parts of British Columbia that do not have the resources of the Lower Mainland.

Kurt Peats was a sergeant of the Dawson Creek RCMP detachment in northeastern British Columbia before casting his hat into the political ring. He's running for the Conservatives this election, for the Peace River South MLA seat currently occupied by the Liberal Party.

Peats believes that adding more prosecutors will have a "huge impact" on what he calls a "backlogged" justice system.

"Once you have a prosecutor or a judge dedicated to a particular file, he can move that file along quite quickly. That way he doesn't have to divide his time among many, many trials," said Peats. "He can't divide his time realistically among many trials -- then those trials just linger into the court system, and whether they get looked at or not, it's just kind of luck-of-the-draw."

Peats believes the Conservatives' plan to add a gang crimes unit will help compensate for the 24 provincial courts he said were closed during the BC Liberal administration.

"Because these courthouses have been closed, especially in rural and northern B.C., you might have to travel 100 kilometres or (more) to the nearest courthouses," he says.

Peats remembers a time when an "impaired driving trial" would only last a few hours. Now, he says, it can drag on for days. With gang crimes, prosecution is even more complicated.

"It's very difficult to prove gang association to a criminal court," Peats says. "So that's where the rub is. We don't have to find out who these people are, for the most part. They pretty much announce their presence. But the hard part is to prove it in court, and that's what takes the time, the effort, and the resources."

The $4 million needed to fund those resources will come out of a $700-million boost to the B.C. justice system previously proposed by party leader John Cummins. The money would be distributed over a five-year period, under the Conservatives' budget plan.

According to Peats, the plan can be financed through the current tax system and will not add unnecessary bureaucracy.

"The bureaucracy is already there. It's already being funded. We're not asking for more capital. We're asking for more human resources to deal with the backlog," he says. "We don't have enough court clerks. We don't have enough prosecutors. We don't have enough judges."

While Peats has not heard of any other party tackling the issue, he remains confident in the platform.

"Just because we're the only ones talking about it doesn't mean it's not a need. It is a need, and it needs to be met," he says.

Allison Griner is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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